Set in Boston and Cambridge, “Good Will Hunting” is the story of a 20-year-old janitor at MIT, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a rebellious yet incredibly bright young man who spends his days mopping floors and his nights hanging out with his buddies, including Chuckie (Ben Affleck), at the local bar along with his affluent girlfriend (Minnie Driver).
Will’s intelligence is a secret to all at MIT until one day when Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) stumps his students with a math formula placed upon a hallway chalkboard. Overnight, Will solve the formula correctly attracting the attention of Lambeau.
The story here is equal parts redemption story, romantic drama, and story about growing up and growing comfortable with oneself. Will, almost inevitably, attracts legal trouble and, as an out, is offered weekly math sessions AND therapy. He accepts, with resistance, and goes through a series of therapists until he meets the one who won’t give up, Sean McGuire (Robin Williams).
The Oscar-winning script by longtime friends Affleck and Damon is, in reality, rather basic. There is nothing new here, and yet the old tricks are done quite nicely. Affleck and Damon offer nicely developed characters, clear/concise dialogue and almost too neatly wrapped up conflicts.
The film is a bit of a change of pace for director Gus Van Sant, whose usual low-budget indie flick approach works nicely here as he excels at bringing the film a sort of working class, intimate feeling. I can’t help but feel that under the direction of many more popular directors the tone would have been dramatically changed into more of a “rah rah” kind of story. It would have been tragic, as Van Sant’s approach magnificently increases the film’s emotional impact.
The film offers Robin Williams the chance to show his dramatic acting skills, and they’ve improved significantly from his early acting days. With only tiny hints of humor, Williams offers here a performance that is often tender, frequently intense and perhaps the truth underneath much of his comedy. Williams captured the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor here, and while I can understand discussion over the win he is, nonetheless, wonderful here.
The film received several other Oscar nominations including Best Actor (Damon), Best Director (Van Sant), Best Supporting Actress (Driver), Best Original Score (Danny Elfman), Best Song (Elliott Smith), and Best Picture.
“Good Will Hunting” put both Affleck and Damon on the map, and opened the door to a wider range of film opportunities for Williams. It showed the world the immense talent of director Van Sant, even though he’s largely returned to his smaller, indie fare. Sadly, this wonderful film hasn’t held up as well to repeat viewings and what appeared to be mood enhancing and atmospheric a mere eight years ago now appears to be a bit dated and tired. Still, “Good Will Hunting” is a wonderful film to view and those who’ve never seen it will most likely embrace the first viewing.